‘HE HUNTED HORROR THROUGH A MANIAC WORLD!
Jeffrey Meyer had a killing on his mind. It meant nothing to him that his towering Twenty-first Century world was going mad. He shouldered aside the rising tide of narcotics-mania, the gambling fever, the insatiable lust for the irrational. Jeff had his own all-consuming obsession—Paul Conroe must die!
After a five-year frenzied chase, Jeff had his victim cornered; he’d driven him into the last hideaway of the world’s most desperate men—the sealed vaults of the human-vivisectionists. And Jeff knew that to reach his final horrible objective, he must offer himself also as a guinea pig for the secret experiments of the world’s most feared physicians!
Alan E. Nourse’s new novel A MAN OBSESSED has the impact of Orwell’s 1984 and the imaginative vigor of Huxley’s Brave New World.
Blurb from the 1955 D-96 Ace Doubles Paperback edition.
Jeff thinks he has set the perfect trap for Conroe, the man who murdered his father, in a bar where his mistress is performing. When Conroe arrives the mistress, in the midst of an erotic display, has a spotlight thrown on Jeff. Conroe sees him and escapes. Jeff’s hired team cordoning off the area can find no trace of him. The only place he could have gone to would be a feared vivisection institute.
Jeff, desperate to track him down, signs himself into the institute, where big money can be earned by those willing to subject themselves to fiendish and dangerous medical experiments.
Some way into the narrative, Jeff discovers that both he and his room-mate at the institute, Blackie (who bears a suspicious resemblance to the dancer in the bar) possess psi-powers, which leads him on another journey to discover the truth about himself, his father and his death.
This is an odd, very noir-ish, piece set in a world where incidents of mental instability are increasing.
The phemomena of ESP seems hurriedly introduced and is awkwardly handled.
There are also some obvious plot holes, such as the fact that Blackie never reveals that she was, in fact, the dancer in the bar, but the denouement is both interesting and unexpected.
Nothing really out of the ordinary though.
While reading this, it struck me, since Brunner seems particularly Dick-influenced – how PKD’s characters seem to be trapped in their roles. I suspect if you pick up any Dick novel at random you would find more than one character yearning to break away from a job, or a spouse or both and yet seems doomed to remain. PKD’s characters are defined by their status and their place in society, and to a certain extent, so are Brunner’s.
Brunner’s work is more obviously satirical, extrapolating US society into a caricatured future of Mental Health gurus, psychic mediums, Watergate-style media reporters, race-riots, politics, corruption, big business and Artificial Intelligence.
It was a time of crisis when Brunner was writing this. America had been involved for some time in the Korean war, civil rights groups were rising and fighting for equality for all the usual causes – all of them just, and so it is not surprising that that this novel is laced with a healthy dose of cynicism for the concepts of equality, fair play and clean politics, on both sides of the divide.
The novel is divided into a hundred chapters, some of which are merely short quotes or excerpts from media reports. It’s therefore a fast-paced, punchy, sometimes aggressive narrative which centres around a TV reporter, Matthew, whose exposees are transmitted once a week and who is currently investigating the Gosschalks, a multinational family who manufacture arms, amongst other things, and who may or may not be suffering from internal family tensions.
When Matthew visits the Mental Health Institute where his wife has been committed – and receiving some somewhat dubious treatment – he is drawn into slowly uncovering an international conspiracy where racial unrest is being actively encouraged, which could lead to world crises and the fall of civilisation.
Paradoxically enough, it’s actually quite funny. One of Brunner’s best.
‘Lou is different to normal people. He interacts with the world in a way they do not understand. He might not see the things they see, but he also sees many things they do not. Lou is autistic.
One of his skills is an ability to find patterns in data: extraordinary, complex, beautiful patterns that not even the most powerful computers can comprehend. The company he works for has made considerable sums of money from Lou’s work. But now they want Lou to change – to become ‘normal’ like themselves. And he must face the greatest challenge of his life. To understand the speed of dark.’
Blurb from the 2004 Orbit paperback edition.
A brave and moving novel, reminiscent of the recent ‘Curious Case of The Dog in The Night Time’. This is almost exclusively related by Lou Arrendale, an autistic adult in a near-future America. His world view is both funny and tragic, but treated with complete respect and empathy by Moon.
Thanks to advances in medicine and educational techniques, Lou and his fellow autistics have learned to live a reasonably normal life. Since the time he was born. subsequent autistic pregnancies have been spotted and the faulty DNA repaired, making Lou’s generation the last of the autistics.
A large pharmaceutical company employs Lou and his friends working in pattern analysis projects, since that is his special talent. For instance, using pattern analysis he has learned the art of fencing, and in a short time can analyse opponents’ patterns of play and therefore anticipate their moves and win.
Now, the head of department is attempting to bully the autistics into an experimental treatment programme which could rewire their brains and transform them into ‘normal’ members of society.
Although only borderline SF, this is a marvellous, moving and respectful novel, exposing society’s attitude to autism, and providing a rare, entertaining and well-observed glimpse into a world many people (though they may choose not to admit it) would rather avoid.
See also Alastair Reynolds’‘Redemption Ark’ and Daniel Keyes’ ‘Flowers For Algernon’
prot (lower case ‘p’) insists that he’s from the planet K-PAX in the constellation of Lyra. As you might expect, prot is locked up in a New York Psychiatric hospital, and it falls to Dr Gene Brewer (the author, in other words) to solve the mystery of prot’s identity.
‘No-one believes I’m an alien’ (apart from the fact that it would be a fab title for a Jerry Springer show, and it’s a shame Dr Brewer never worked this into the book) or ‘the alien in human form’ is a staple SF device which, although handled competently here breaks very little new ground.
Dr Brewer, of course, considers prot to be a delusional amnesiac, and goes into partnership with a reporter in attempt to discover prot’s true identity before his planned return to K-PAX on August 17 at 3.31 am on a beam of light.
It’s a lightweight easy read, but suffers in that the reader is inevitably convinced throughout that prot is telling the truth. He demonstrates, for instance, knowledge of the area of space from which he comes which the doctor is assured he could not possibly know. In the course of the book he manages to cure several of the hospital’s patients, translates whale-song into English and Hamlet into pax-o (the language of K-PAX), and is proved to be able to see light in the ultra-violet range.
This may not sway the sceptical Dr Brewer, but it convinced me.
It would have been a far better novel if the true nature of prot were ambivalent and less obvious. There’s some decent characterisation here and there, but many people come across as two-dimensional in a severely linear story which holds few surprises.
There was a film starring Kevin Spacey, which didn’t set the cinema world alight, and there’s a sequel or two which I’m not, I confess, straining at the leash to buy copies of.
‘Millgate Virginia – It should have been the sort of town where nothing changes…
As Ted Barton is driving through Baltimore, on vacation with his wife, he is seized with an irresistible urge to head into the Appalachian Mountains and visit the town where he was born – Millgate, Virginia.
But when Barton finds his way into the little valley he grew up in, he is in for a deep shock. The town called Millgate is there all right: but it is a town he has never seen before.
It is a town where Ted Barton had died of scarlet fever at the age of nine years old…’
Blurb from the 1985 Panther paperback edition
Ted Barton returns to his home town of Millgate, Virginia only to find it unrecognisably transformed, and holding records to show that he died in childhood.
Although a minor Dick novel this early work exhibits many of the signature themes and characters which Dick was later to exploit to extraordinary effect.
Barton’s wife, her implied alcoholism and her seemingly hostile attitude to Barton himself is indicative of other female characters which Dick created in later works such as Mary Rittersdorf from ‘Clans of The Alphane Moon’.
One cannot ignore the fact that Dick had difficulty in maintaining lasting relationships with women. He was married five times after all, but it is also clear that his depiction of women is not one which leads the reader to believe that he does not understand them. These are no mere stereotypes. One begins to suspect that Dick understood women far better than many people imagine.
We also see signs of Dick’s fascination with philosophical and theological issues since the entire fabrication of the town which overlays the reality of Millgate is all part of a billion year war waged by Ormazd and Ahriman, the Zoroastrian Gods of Light and Darkness.
It’s also an interesting (almost wistful and Simakian) portrait of Nineteen Fifties Middle America, the effect of which is enhanced by Barton’s nostalgic longing for the return of town he grew up in. It’s a clever device which strikes a chord with many readers who have experienced returning to their home town after an extended period expecting it to find it unchanged, but finding it instead, unsettlingly altered.
Then there are Dick’s Lynch-esque oddities too; the surreal flourishes which he later perfected to great effect. Here we have the peculiar children; Peter’s ‘golems’, walking creatures of clay which act as his spies, and Dr Meade’s sanatorium, full of so-called ‘lunatics’ but who are actually people who remember the ‘real’ Millgate before its transformation.
Again, this concept of madness and reality recurs again and again in Dick’s work, challenging our concepts of what is ‘mad’ or ‘true’ in many and various ways, such as in ‘Clans of The Alphane Moon’ where a society of dysfunctionals functions perfectly well, albeit seeing the Universe from a different perspective to our own,
Madness, in Dick’s world, is just a different way of seeing things.
‘At Stake – the Earth…
Pete Garden was a bindman. One of the finest Game-players this side of Titan. His skill had already won him half of California and eighteen wives.
But was he good enough to beat the fanatical Game-players of Titan? The telepathic Vugs had already won an interplanetary wart that left the scattered remnants of humanity sterile owners of a wasteland.’
Blurb from the 1991 Grafton paperback edition
Following a war between Earth and the telepathic Vugs of Titan (which Earth lost) the population has been reduced to a fraction of its size and fertility is low due to the effects of a Russian/Chinese bomb.
Some Vugs are now living on (although not in control of) the Earth and Humanity is combating its fertility by means of Bluff, a game which appears to be a cross between Poker and Monopoly.
The Bindmen who play this game (Bindmen’s Bluff, one realises belatedly) are an elite crowd who gamble for large sections of the world’s real estate. They also have to change wives or husbands if they win or lose holdings which ensures that partners are changed frequently in the hope that fertile individuals will have a better chance of getting together and therefore producing children (known as ‘having luck’).
Pete Gardiner is a member of The Pretty Blue Fox Group and has just lost part of California, and his wife.
In an unorthodox move, the deed was then sold to Jerome ‘Lucky’ Luckman, a dangerous gameplayer who not only has won a lot of the East Coast, but has fathered ten children. Jerome can now move to California and join the Pretty Blue Fox group.
In the meantime Pete finds a new wife Carol (or has her found for him) and tries to persuade his old game-playing friend Joe Schilling to return to the game.
Luckman does indeed turn up in California and begins winning title deeds, but shortly afterwards is found dead in Carol Gardiner’s car.
Subsequently, six members of the PBF are found to be missing their memories of the afternoon Luckman died. Things take a decidedly strange Dickian turn after this and Gardiner finds himself at the centre of a conspiracy involving militant Vugs, telepaths, precogs and an unstable psychokinetic teenager.
The interest, however, lies in the psyche of Pete Gardiner, a depressive prone to suicidal impulses. Midway through the novel he is forced to question his own reality, not only with regard to his ‘blackout’ periods, but also when he’s taken a drug and sees the people around him as Vugs.
‘We are entirely surrounded by Vugs!’ he writes on a matchbook as a message to someone, possibly himself. He is proven right ultimately, but the writing of these particular scenes exquisitely captures the ambivalence of the reality Gardiner is experiencing.
As with the radio presenter in ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?’, there is a duplicitous figure working through the media, in this case Natz Katz, a cool popular singer who is the leader of the renegade Vugs, and also has his own radio show.
Gardiner, being one of Dick’s autobiographical characters, also has a shrewish ex-wife, Freya, who gets more than upset at Gardiner’s ‘luck’ in getting his new wife Carol pregnant.
There is a certain level of animosity from Mary-Ann, the psychokinetic teenager, also, as she tells Gardiner that it isn’t a baby at all. Freya, in a call to carol, congratulates her and tells her that she ‘hopes it’s a baby’, a remark guaranteed to upset the pregnant woman.
There are some unexpected twists and turns (or should that be expected unexpected twists and turns, given Dick’s penchant for confusing the reader?) in the narrative and events which, although justified later, are tailored to obfuscate. It reads, not surprisingly, like a David Lynch film. Gardiner’s visit to Dr Philipson, for instance, is so redolent of a drug-inspired incident that both the reader and Gardiner are unsure of what is going on.
It’s also a novel with a strong female cast. We have Gardiner’s two wives, and the mother and daughter team of Patricia and Mary-Ann McLain, who all have quite prominent roles.
‘Los Angeles 2047, a city on the eve of the Binary Millennium. Public Defender Mary Choy faces her toughest assignment: to bring back Emanuel Goldsmith – acclaimed poet turned mass killer – from the heart of a Caribbean island about to explode in revolution.
But there are others interested in Goldsmith: the sinister Selectors, who use Hellcrowns to exact ultimate retribution; Goldsmith’s best friend, Richard Fettle, driven to literary inspiration and the edge of madness by the murders; and psychologist Martin Burke, who will journey into Goldsmith’s Country of the Mind to find the origins of human evil.
Far away, circling Alpha Centauri, a complex artificial Thinker pilots a scientific probe, intent on finding signs of life, coming to grips with a terrifying loneliness. On Earth, an even more powerful Thinker, nicknamed Jill, contemplates all with its extraordinary mind, waiting to be born.
In one week, crossing the boundaries of the Binary Millennium, they will face their greatest challenge, putting together the pieces of the greatest of all puzzles: the roots of the soul.’
Blurb from the 1991 Legend paperback edition
On the eve of the Binary Millennium, the poet Emmanuel Goldsmith invites several guests to his home and slaughters them all. At the same time a ship manned by a Thinker (an artificial intelligence on the verge of self-awareness) is approaching the planets of Alpha Centauri B; its mission, to seek out life etc.
back on Earth an identical Thinker called Jill is monitoring the remote Thinker’s transmissions while Jill’s creator is hoping that one of both of these AIs will take the next step and become self-aware.
Public Defender Mary Choy is assigned the task of tracking Goldsmith down, even if he has fled to the Republic of Hispaniola, in what used to be Africa, ruled by Colonel Sir John Yardley. This is the country from whence Hellcrowns come, the ruthless instruments of justice which force the convicted to relive their crimes, face their worst nightmares and far, far worse.
Mary does not realise that Goldsmith is still in the US, having been abducted by the father of one of Goldsmith’s victims.
The father has requested that Martin Burke, psychologist, whose hospital/lab was shut down due to withdrawal of grants, examine Goldsmith to determine his state of mind.
Burke’s ‘examinations’ however, involve entering the patient’s consciousness which can be a dangerous operation. As it happens, Goldsmith’s ‘Country of the Mind’ is a landscape of death and violence in which Burke seems trapped.
Goldsmith’s friend, Richard Fettle, previously an average writer, now finds the tragedy of his friend’s killing spree pushing him to new creative heights.
It’s a dense and clumsily structured novel, but one with which patience reaps large rewards. The various story strands hang together very well, and there are occasional reflections of theme ricocheting between them. Mary’s artistic friend, for instance, invites her to his latest exhibition which, to her horror, includes an illegal (albeit adapted) Hellcrown. Goldsmith, a poet, for seemingly no reason, turns to carnage. Mary Choy, on her fruitless visit to Hispaniola, finds a beautiful country whose people have an unfamiliar vitality of life and (for the most part) love their leader, Colonel Sir John Yardley, but they are also the creators of the Hellcrowns, which forms part of the justice system of the country.
It’s not an outstanding work, but it shows a different side of Bear, one which is perhaps striving to explore the human condition rather more than is evident in some of his other work.
‘Queen of Angels’ is, of course, set in the same universe as ‘Moving Mars’, in which Jill the Thinker also appears, although the novels are otherwise unconnected.
‘Delmak-O was one big deathtrap…
Fourteen people arrive in the strange planet of Delmak-O, each looking forward to a new life in a new world. But what is the huge forbidding building near their settlement that plays on each individual’s fears and superstitions? And what are the tiny artificial insects which observe the colonists with minute TV cameras?
Without warning, the murders begin…’
Not one of Dick’s most important novels, but one in which he again experiments with the novel structure and explores once more his favourite themes of madness, reality, religion and the human condition.
Prefaced by a chapter listing which bears little relation to the events in the book, it is a tale at first strangely reminiscent of classic murder mysteries, in particular, Agatha Christie’s ‘Ten Little Indians’.
A group of professionals are posted to the planet Delmak-O on a mission whose purpose is to be specified once they are all assembled.
Christie’s novel begins the same way in that ten professionals are invited to an island by a mysterious host.
As in ‘Ten Little Indians’, once the group is assembled, all communication and means of escape are cut off.
Dick’s characters live within a society which subscribes to a single religion, based on ‘The Book’ by Specktowsky, which seems to be an amalgam of today’s major religions, one in which prayer is beamed to the ‘god worlds’ by electronic means.
The purpose of their mission is never revealed, but it soon becomes apparent that this is a disturbingly dysfunctional and motley band of individuals who suffer from various psychological problems, ranging through alcoholism, nymphomania, paranoia, drug dependency, and the usual Dick armada of mental conditions. In contrast to ‘Clans of The Alphane Moon’ in which disparate sufferers of mental illness made up for each other’s failings and worked together, friction appears inevitable within the group.
This is not helped by the actions of baffling phenomena; the shifting geography of the landscape, the mysterious fortress-like building which appears to move from place to place, insects which spy on the group with recording equipment.
The group repeat their conversations word for word on occasions, and before long, one of the newest arrivals, Ben Tallchief, is found dead.
Ben believed that his electronic prayer to the god worlds for a more interesting posting had been answered, but as others debate later, why should God answer his prayer only in order to kill him as soon as he arrives?
It is clear that the group are not living in a realistic environment, something which, on first reading is hard to determine since Dick’s environments are seldom realistic and in this case we are also dealing with the subjective viewpoints of several characters, and the mystery is not who is murdering the characters but what exactly is going on in a wider sense.
The main focus is on Seth Morley, whom we meet initially in the Tekel Upharsin kibbutz. Before he and his wife Mary leave for Delmak-O he is visited by The Walker On Earth, one of the four aspects of ‘God’, a Christ-like figure who advises Seth not to use ‘The Morbid Chicken’ (the small spaceship he’d chosen to travel to Delmak-O) and points out a non-defective craft.
Again, later it is questioned why the walker did not counsel Seth against going to the planet in the first place.
Ultimately it is discovered that the group are in fact the crew of a disabled ship who have been locked into orbit around an uncharted dead star for about twenty years and are attempting to preserve their sanity by regular escape into a shared virtual reality in which they have no access to their previous memories.
However, even this, it is suggested, may itself be a delusional reality since when returned from the illusory world of Delmak-O, Seth Morley is once more approached by The Walker on Earth and is taken away to enjoy a new life as a cactus, living quietly in the desert.
In the shared dream of Delmak-O, the basic psychoses of the group members come to the fore and their subconscious hostilities toward each other are unleashed.
It’s a shame that Dick chose to employ so many characters as in such a short novel he’s not given space to explore their personalities fully, although they do come across as having more depth than characters in other genre novels of the time.
Susie Smart, one of Dick’s dark-haired femme-fatales, is one of the more interesting characters, announcing herself to Seth Morley almost immediately as the settlement nymphomaniac, flitting from male to male to offer sexual favours, a practice which is ultimately her downfall since she arouses the jealousy of Mrs Morley, who subsequently murders her.
Dick is attempting to examine how humans, with their repressed feelings, psychoses, desires and resentments are released from our inhibitions in what is essentially a dream state, a condition in which one is removed from the restraints of one’s true memories and experiences.
There are also some interesting points made about religion since it transpires that the entire Specktowsky theology was distilled from the basics of human religions and conflated into a working philosophy.
It is the one thing which permeates the lives of the group and connects them as individuals. Despite the group’s obvious faith, their prayers and faith have no tangible beneficial effects. On the contrary, it seems that their faith is counter-productive. Maggie Walsh, the theologian, is perhaps the one most dedicated to the faith, although her ‘obsession’ is to be her downfall since as she attempts to use quotations from ‘The Book’ to win over the appositely named Ignatz Thugg, she is shot and killed.
Tony Dunkenwelt, who enters trance states in order to commune with the four aspects of the Deity, kills one of the group whom he is convinced is The Form Destroyer (The ‘Devil’ aspect of Specktowsky’s philosophy) and is in turn shot dead.
Despite the fact that this is far from Dick’s best novel, it’s very representative of his talent for playing with conceptions of reality and demonstrating that reality is subjective, and exclusive to every individual.
Probably my favourite of all of Dick’s novels, though not necessarily the best, but arguably the most accessible.
Following a war between Earth and the inhabitants of Alpha Centauri, Chuck Rittersdorf works for the CIA (the Counter Intelligence Authority) where he writes dialogue for government simulacra. These are dropped into Communist countries (such as Red Canada) to spread propaganda among the locals. One has to remember that at the time of writing, America was a paranoid country, heavily involved in Vietnam and terrified by the possible spread of Communism into Malaysia and Thailand. Dick pushes this paranoia to an absurd degree, creating an America which is practically alone in a Communist world.
Chuck’s social-climber wife Mary is a marriage counsellor. In one of many ironies in this darkly comic novel she is divorcing him to travel as an unpaid volunteer to one of the Alphane Moons, there to rehabilitate a colony of mentally-ill patients (the psychiatric hospital on the moon having been abandoned by both sides of the conflict after the Alphane war) who have formed a functioning society in the interim.
Chuck is a man who (like many of Dick’s characters) finds himself as a pawn to forces and organisations whose plans and motives he never completely understands. His wife, through her overwhelming lawyer firepower, has ensured that anything Chuck earns will go straight to her as alimony. He is hired – through an apparent arrangement with his wife – by popular TV comic Bunny Hentman to write scripts for his TV show, but this turns out to be part of a complex plot by the Alphane government to reclaim the moon for themselves by persuading Chuck to murder his own wife.
Even his thoughts are not his own, for his next-door neighbour, Lord Running Clam, a mobile Ganymedean slime-mold, feels it his duty to eavesdrop upon his brain activity and offer sage advice.
In archetypal terms LRC can be seen as Chuck’s Mentor. He is a wise sage who knows Chuck more intimately than Chuck can ever know him. One suspects there is deeper symbolism in the character. Arguably, he represents Chuck’s rational self, the person he could have been in another world. Content, successful and – perhaps tellingly – devoid of sexual need or identity, unencumbered by the complex rules of gender etiquette, and able to produce children without the aid of a mate.
Whether LRC’s death and subsequent ‘resurrection’ represents any religious or psychological symbolism is uncertain, although it’s possible, given that LRC died on Earth and was ‘reborn’ in the rich soil of the Alphane moon. As an aspect of Chuck’s higher self, LRC represents the death of the old Chuck and the birth of the new; the sane Chuck, founder of the new rational community, Thomas Jeffersonburg.
As usual the SF content is employed in Dick’s trademark manner. Dick is unconcerned whether his SF plot devices make scientific sense. It’s not important whether a man who programmes simulacra could navigate a ship from Earth to a moon of Alpha Centauri, or that the moon should be impossibly Earthlike when he gets there (and it is never satisfactorily explained why a psychiatric hospital should have been sited on an Alphane moon in the first place). The power of Dick lies in the characters, their relationship to each other and to the universe around them.
In one sense it can be viewed as a story of a sane man living in a psychotic world, manipulated by the plans of others. Chuck has no choice when he is forced to move into a slum property which – like the rest of his society – has rules and strictures of his own. Throughout the novel, the plans of others, which invariably involve him in some way, are themselves based on ‘irrational’ suppositions with little evidence to support them. Paranoia abounds, and Chuck is forced to a point where he suspects even his friends, Joan Trieste and Lord Running Clam, of being agents of either the government or the Bunny Hentman organisation.
Is it true that every time we hear about someone’s agenda, it is always reported by someone else, ie, it’s a character’s opinion of what another character may, or may not, be up to. Thus, the paranoia is disseminated through the text since we seldom, if ever, hear anyone confess, first-hand, what their agenda is. We learn about characters partly through the testimony of other characters, which gives support to the idea that everyone’s plans are based on false data.
Dick makes many profound points through ironic observation and gross characterisation, not least raising questions -still topical after forty years or so – of how the US views other cultures and societal structures. There’s more than an implication of an America which believes that the American way is the only way. All other cultural models are intrinsically wrong.
In contrast to Earth, the world of the mentally-ill, although not a paradise, is at least a reasonably peaceful society of clans, differentiated by their psychiatric status, and governed by an interclan council, reliant on each other to fill their gaps in their collective dysfunctional psyches. This is underlined when ultimately Chuck, Lord Running Clam and the moon’s residents opt to live under occupation by the alien Alphanes rather than submit to the values and laws of their home world.
The greatest irony of all is that the moon is really of no real importance to either side. Chuck, having earlier ruminated on laws which control the insignificance of one’s job in relation to the effect it has on the world, is forced to see that all he has been through is meaningless in terms of its actual importance to either Earth or Alpha Centauri.
It’s always interesting to examine Dick’s depiction of women. One may be tempted to describe some of them as stereotypes, but one could argue that all Dick’s characters (male/female/alien/replicant) are caricatures. A stereotype is a generic figure, based on archetypal images we all hold in common, which in turn are evolved from assumptions we make about people we categorise in our own way.
Whatever their political merits, Dick’s women are individuals, and in many cases far more alive on the page than some of their male counterparts. Mary Rittersdorf for instance (reputedly based on Dick’s wife, Ann) is a ruthlessly efficient manipulative social-climbing marriage counsellor who presents a cold and seamless professional front until she is drugged by Pare (paranoid) Gabriel Baines and transforms into a sex-crazed sadistic dominatrix.
Gabriel realises – a little too late – that the aphrodisiac didn’t simply induce sexual arousal, it awakened something else which had always been inside her. In other words, Mary is giving in – as all the other Moon’s inhabitants have – to her natural psychiatric status. By this act Mary changes from counsellor to patient. She has joined those whom she wished to rehabilitate.
Bunny Hentman’s mistress is an artificially enhanced actress, hired to feature in one of Chuck’s scripts. In her own way, she is as ruthless and manipulative as Mary, but where Mary’s strength lies in the law and her position in society, her strength is sex. We see the two sides of her character, before and after she discovers that Chuck has lost his job as Bunny’s writer. Her function is little other than to present the façade (the fake face) of the Media industry (which has another façade in that Bunny Hentman’s company is actually being run by the insectoid Alphanes.)
Written in 1962 during arguably during Dick’s most fruitful and inventive period, Martian Time-Slip was originally titled ‘Goodmember Arnie Kott of Mars’ then serialized in Worlds of Tomorrow as “All We Marsmen” in 1963, Martian Time-Slip was finally published as a paperback book in 1964.
Dick takes us to a near-future Mars where colonists are making the most of what they have. Dick was never a writer who let scientific verity get in the way of a good story, and the Mars here is one with a breathable atmosphere, canals and a slowly dying humanoid Martian Race, the Bleekmen. In essence, this is an allegorical view of Dick’s small town America, which has been displaced relatively untouched to the surface of Dick’s Mars.
It is interesting to note that this is Dick’s perception of American society since one of the core concepts of this book is how events are perceived differently by different people.
Arnie Kott, as leader of the Water Workers Union, is one of the most powerful men on Mars, but he is worried by rumours that Earth interests are buying up tracts of the Franklin D Roosevelt Mountains, a worthless Martian wasteland, but with sites sacred to the Martians.
Arnie, and one of his black market contacts, Norbert Steiner, have children being cared for in Camp Ben Gurion, a Jewish-run home for some of the ’special’ children born on Mars. Some are physically deformed. Others are autistic or schizophrenic.
When Steiner kills himself by walking into the path of a bus, Arnie takes over the care of Manfred, Steiner’s schizoid son, hoping that the child may have precog abilities and can see the future of the FDR mountain range.
Arnie meets a local repairman, Jack Bohlen, who himself suffers occasional schizoid episodes, and who thinks he can build a machine to communicate with Manfred, who exists at a varying time-rate to the rest of humanity.
The relationships between the characters are always of interest with Dick. His relationship with women no doubt fed into his depictions of his female characters who are less dark in nature here than in some of his other novels.
Arnie Kott maintains a good relationship with his ex-wife, Anne Esterhazy, a social campaigner who runs a shop and also produces a local magazine.
Jack Bohlen is happily married and yet is lured into an affair with Arnie’s mistress. His wife subsequently has a random sexual assignation with Otto Zitte, a black-market salesman, who was Norbert Steiner’s supplier before he died.
In fact, it is Norbert’s death that sets most of the narrative in motion, and Norbert, although dead, is the linking figure between all the other characters, since he knows them all.
He is Arnie’s contraband supplier, and knows Arnie’s ex-wife because they both have children in Camp BG. His black market contact is Otto Zitte who – following the Norbert’s death – sets out to make a business of his own and meets and seduces Jack’s wife.
She and her husband are neighbours of Norbert’s. Norbert also knows the Doctor at the hospital and the owner of the restaurant to which Arnie takes his wife for lunch. Thus, all the main characters are literally acquainted with Death.
Jack is presented to us as an altruistic figure, since he initially responds to a distress call from a family of Bleekmen, stranded in the desert. Arnie’s vehicle is also diverted to help the Martians but he resents it, seeing Martians as inferior and subhuman (although research has shown that the Bleekmen and humans are descended from a common ancestor.)
The Martian family give Jack a ‘water witch’ which is a good luck charm.
The novel takes a decided turn for the weird when Manfred enters the narrative. There is one pivotal scene in Arnie’s house where we see the same events through various character’s eyes, including Manfred’s.
Both Manfred and Jack are schizoid, and although Jack’s episodes are intermittent, Manfred lives in the death world and sees our world as a continual process of decay.
Jack has periods where he perceives people as being not real, with pistons and machines moving beneath their flesh.
Arnie – finally discovering that a large development is going to be built on the site in question – tries to employ Manfred in an effort to send himself back in time via one of the Bleekmen’s sacred sites, which is a temporal fissure.
Manfred, simultaneously, is attempting to change the future, since he sees himself as an old man in a home in the FDR mountains where the buildings are in a state of decay.
Arnie’s plan to change the past is futile, since he is constantly thwarted by events, but Manfred, at the finale returns in a vision, surrounded by the Bleekmen who save him, to thank Jack for his help.
It has to be one of Dick’s most satisfying novels, and one of his best, typifying what Dick does best, which is to effortlessly subvert the pulp fiction SF genre to produce a work of depth and sophistication and examine the human condition from a perspective no one has matched before or since.